Police will meet with community leaders in the coming months to try to soothe discontent with their handling of bias-related incidents that target the District’s gay, lesbian and transgender population, department officials and gay rights advocates said Wednesday.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier agreed to meetings proposed by D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) after a three-hour hearing in which community leaders complained about issues including communication problems and reluctance to file bias-related incident reports required by department policy.
“It’s kind of an irony that on one hand, [D.C. police are] very connected with the community, and on the other hand, it’s clear that the [gay] community feels this disconnect,” said Mendelson, chairman of the council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, after Wednesday’s hearing. “The chief has to reconcile this.”
Lanier said she was “perplexed” by testimony that questioned her department’s efforts to document hate crimes and bias-related incidents; she pointed to examples of community outreach and bias training for officers as examples of their commitment.
“We engage in every way we can,” she said at the hearing.
Members of the department’s Special Liaison Unit — which includes officers affiliated with the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, among other groups — have participated in 45 community meetings and 100 events in the past six months, Lanier said.
But community leaders said Lanier’s verbal commitments to address hate-crime and bias issues were inconsistent with reports of officers they said were unaware of the reporting policy when responding to 911 calls.
“This is not a rank-and-file officer problem, this is a leadership problem,” A.J. Singletary, president of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence, said. “We would support a lot of the assertions that Chief Lanier made during the testimony if they were an actuality.”
The hearing Wednesday was the third on sexual-orientation-related bias issues that Mendelson has convened since 2008.
“We were in front of the council in 2009 with almost identical problems,” said Kristopher Baumann, head of the D.C. police union. “And that tells me the issue exists with management.”